Tiny reed warbler struggles to feed giant imposter posing as its chick

Look cuckoo’s popped in for dinner! Tiny reed warbler struggles to feed giant imposter posing as its chick

  • This warbler returned to a very large cuckoo chick believing it was one of her own offspring
  • The image was taken by Dr Michael Ebdy, 64, at Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Burscough, Lancashire
  • Cuckoos have a sneaky habit of laying eggs in the nests of other species

The reed warbler has a number of attributes, including agility and a distinctive singing voice. Intelligence clearly isn’t on the list.

Indeed, this one proved spectacularly birdbrained when she returned with a tasty morsel in her beak. 

Confronted, not by little warblers but a very large cuckoo chick, she didn’t bat an eyelid and dropped food into its gaping beak, believing it was one of her own offspring.

The warbler returned with a tasty morsel in her beak and was confronted by a very large cuckoo chick

The image was taken by Dr Michael Ebdy, 64, at Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Burscough, Lancashire, who explained the warbler’s action.

‘The instinct to feed is provoked by the red mouth of the chick and is so strong that it overrides the obvious fact that this is not a warbler chick!’ he said.

The bizarre scene is the result of the cuckoo’s sneaky habit of laying eggs in the nests of other species and leaving the unwitting birds to raise their chicks which then head to Africa in August. 

Dr Ebdy, a GP who recently came out of retirement to help fight coronavirus, said: ‘The cuckoo’s behaviour is called brood parasitism and is remarkable in several ways.

‘Firstly, the cuckoos lay different coloured eggs to mimic those of the various birds acting as hosts.

‘Secondly the parent’s instinct to feed is provoked by the red mouth of the chick, and is so strong that it overrides the obvious fact that this is not a warbler chick!

‘Lastly, the parent cuckoos fly back to Africa in July.

‘The chicks do so in August, never having met their parents, yet somehow they know where to go. Amazing.’

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